Jarvin Mutatiina and Esther Ndagire, Fellows at Pollicy 2017

Pollicy Fellowship Highlight: Jarvin Mutatiina chats about Data, CivicTech and What’s Next!

August 1st, 2017 marked the beginning of the Civic Technology Fellowship at Pollicy. I was beyond excited about this new journey. I thought of all the opportunities and the learning that the program would impart on me. Having finished my undergraduate studies literally a week before the fellowship would begin, I was ready to dive in. And, oh what a good start it has been!

My first impression was how diverse the office space was- not your typical uptight, boring workspace. Coming in, I was ready for a good experience and that is what exactly I got; a combination of high energy, positivity, creativity and a socially engaging environment, plus a feast of sugary stuff- Oreos for our first day!

During the fellowship, I had the opportunity to lead a project — Data Culture. Data Culture is a data training program intended to be delivered both in classrooms and online. It seeks to empower Ugandans with data skills and our main target participants are mainly local leaders, local entrepreneurs, Civil Society Organisations, political parties and really anyone who would benefit from handling data appropriately. The program explores topics such as data collection, data analysis, data cleaning, data visualisation and much more.

The gap in data skills does exist here in Uganda and the program is ready to fill this black-hole. Currently, the online platform is up and running and the pilot in-classroom course is also ready-to-go. We are first piloting the course with non-governmental organizations; this will help us ascertain more on what the exact data skills gap is and then we can scale to different target groups. Data Culture is also looking to partner/collaborate with organisations that have data at their core and work towards improving the data capacity of their employees. These could be newsrooms, curriculum development centres, NGOs, media companies and government agencies.

Hopefully, Data Culture will create impact in the community with more empowered individuals that make decisions based on properly analysed, factual data and information. Imagine a generation of 1–2 page reports that have all the information/data summarised in ready-to-consume visualisations instead of pouring over pages of documentation that no one really reads. As the fellowship comes to an end, I will continue to be part of the project and move forward to push its vision.

Besides the project, the fellowship had a mentorship program complementing it. There was a thematic area for each week, for example digital security, governance, data visualisation, human centered design, project management etc. In a given week, we, the fellows, would meet up with individuals doing similar work in that thematic topic for that week. This gave us a wealth of insights on recommended industry practices, forwarded collaborative opportunities and gave us next steps for our projects.

Mentorship definitely influenced the direction that Data Culture took and in a way was a cheat-sheet as we got “free” insights from people working on similar fields and on related projects. We talked to numerous inspiring professionals from a wide spectrum, but my favorite highlight from the mentorship was Suzane Muhereza from International Republican Institute, Uganda. She gave us an elaborate account into governance and working with political parties which was the topic of discussion for that week. As architects of civic technology, we need to have the leaders in mind. Having a conversation on ways to harness successful relationships with political leaders was a definite eye opener.

My biggest takeaway has been effective project management; being able to adapt a project’s direction to the changing needs and vision. Projects can only be successful if managed well and this was emphasized during the fellowship. Moving forward, I can confidently say that I have improved my skills in regards to agile project management. Other lessons learned include; Human Centered Design; designing your product or service around actual human needs, how to harness successful working relationships with external partners or stakeholders, civic engagement and research.

My favorite part of the fellowship was definitely the weekly topics. Each week had a thematic topic-as earlier mentioned and during that time, we explored that topic through readings, online courses and crowned off with a meeting with a mentor working in that area. We got a chance to interact, network, learn from successful professionals doing amazing work to push the given agendas. I also enjoyed the numerous trainings/events that we got to attend. Data4Change stood out and I was happy to be part of the 5-Day program. Other notable events include the Civic Tech Breakfast, the Public Dialogue Commemorating the International Day for the Universal Access to Information organised by CIPESA, HiiL Innovating Justice and the just concluded Data Club that was organized by Pollicy, bringing together data enthusiasts in a fun and interactive way- Data doesn’t have to be boring. The numerous “Ubers” and “Boda-bodas” that we took added the extra thrill to our 3-month adventure.

Next steps for me will be to continue working with Pollicy to progress the ongoing projects that we started, spread the word on how civic technology initiatives can change the world and to steadily grow my career towards becoming a data scientist doing more grounding breaking work.

I am eager and optimistic at what the future holds for me.

Written by Jarvin Mutatiina, Fellow @ Pollicy

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